Bluff welcomes visitors from around the world, with the current distance-record holder being a gentleman from Tibet who stopped by this past summer. Within a 50-mile radius centered in Bluff, local attractions stretch from Monument Valley to Hovenweep ruins to the Bears Ears National Monument and its glories. But some of the most interesting views of the area appear right here on the Twin Rocks porches.
Susie and I live in the large and sunny apartment above Twin Rocks Trading Post, with our nearest neighbors being the massive stone sentinels that provide the name and inspiration for the Post and Café. From this vantage point, we overlook the San Juan River valley town that is home for approximately 260 individuals (and I do mean individuals). As a former news photographer, I keep a camera ready for the ever-changing sideshow that is Bluff, Utah.
January means balloons in Bluff, specifically the Annual International Balloon Festival, now preparing for its 21st renewal. Balloon teams spread out in available open spaces all over town: the cemetery, fairgrounds and Twin Rocks parking lot being favorites. In front of the Trading Post, four crews used this area, more commonly filled with RVs and motorcycles during the season, to launch into the clear, cold Southwestern sky.
While the sunsets are real crowd-pleasers, many February mornings awaken clear and beautiful. When there are rare morning clouds on high, the contrast between the solid rocks of the bluffs and the lacy sky is striking. You need to have a camera ready for action as the cloud formations and lighting change by the moment.
Call them ravens, gaaghis, crows, or the Navajo Air Force, these jet-black scavengers are everywhere and serve as effective grounds-cleaners and the ultimate recyclers. Noisy and pushy, the ravens scour the gravel parking lot for spilled French fries, potato chips, or fry bread particles dropped by Café patrons. Recently, Barry has taken to bringing stale week-old bargain hot dog buns to feed two large blackbirds that have seemingly adopted him.
Our side yard is a circular parking area that has become the home of neighboring White Mesa Ute activities during April’s Founders Day celebration. The parking lot also serves as the official competition grounds for the Frybread Fling, a world-class competition that is uniquely Bluffoonian. The front porch is also the site of the face-stuffing experience called the Frybread Eating Contest.
In early May, one of the Navajo Nation’s finest basket weavers Betty Rock Johnson brings in one of her recently completed classic ceremonial designs. A tiny lady with immense charm, Betty is the matriarch and teacher of Joann, Chris, and other remarkable craftsmen and textile artists of the Rock and Johnson families of weavers.
In the Southwest, life appears where there is water. From a small crack in the flagstone floor of the apartment porch, a persistent sunflower inched upward during June. Apparently enough water was splashed around during our occasional irrigation of plants and cats to nourish a brilliantly yellow blossom a few days later.
In the previous 12-month period prior to July, Bluff only received 2.08 inches of rainfall. That amount was equaled in a three-day period when an early monsoon brought buckets of water in a very short time. Steve, along with Susie and Priscilla, stood outside and took selfies with the rainfall, just like all the other tourists witnessing something rare and special.
In August, dense smoke and haze from the Colorado and California wildfires reached Bluff, creating memorable sunsets and a rarity called air pollution. An overcast or cloudy series of days is unusual to the area that averages around 350 days of sunshine a year. If the sun does not show itself after three days, many local folks tend to get a bit cranky.
In September, hummingbirds are our constant companions, especially drawn to Susie’s feeder on the upstairs porch and the six sugar-stations on the Café promenade. It is not unusual to see 20 to 30 hummers on the Café porch with visitors, especially Germans, recording seemingly every hum and flutter.
In October, cottonwoods are king. The San Juan River valley, usually so green and brown, becomes vibrant yellow as the leaves change. This small cottonwood, called teec by our Navajo neighbors, is located between the parking lot and La Posada Pintada boutique inn. The last moments before sunset makes the entire valley glow.
El Zorro, the world’s luckiest cat, surveys his Bluff domain from his porch perch in November. Zorro, a product of the neighboring Melvin Gaines Cat Stable, had the good sense to be adopted by Susie, which is pretty much the most any dog or cat could ever hope for. As a friend back home in Kentucky says, “He looks like he fell into a tub of butter.”
In December, the setting full moon is met by the first rays of the sun warming the western bluffs. In the foreground, a small three-foot rock formation takes on a shadowy image of a roaring bear, an appropriate salute to Bears Ears country.
Well, there it is, another “Rick Bell Annual Year in Review.” See you next year for some brand-new adventures in the Land of Bluff.